Visiting China soon? Start here

Visiting China soon? Start here

Yinchuan Travel Guide




Northwest China


2.8 million




Welcome to Yinchuan!

Author: Mike Cairnduff | Last updated: Dec. 8, 2023

Yinchuan will surprise you with its rich history, stunning landscapes, and vibrant cultural heritage. From the mysterious Western Xia Tombs to the stunning Helan Mountains, Yinchuan offers a blend of ancient wonders and natural beauty. Let’s go!

My first visit to Yinchuan was on a whim. I’d heard of the city before, but didn’t know much about it, except that it was located in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

This relatively small Chinese province is located in the northwest of the country, and is largely unknown to foreign tourists.

That was part of the allure for me, but little did I realize there’s actually plenty of things to do in Yinchuan, and the Islamic and Hui ethnic culture is pretty special too.

camel sitting down in Yinchuan desert

There are camel rides aplenty around Yinchuan. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

foreign tourist wearing warrior costume in Yinchuan

Wearing this costume was so worth the 20 yuan! Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

Best things do in Yinchuan

Here are the top landmarks and attractions to include in your Yinchuan itinerary.

To get to most places, you’ll need to jump in a taxi or Didi (China’s Uber) or join a guided tour. I’ve done both.

There’s no subway in the city.

1. Explore the Western Xia Imperial Tombs

Mausoleum Number 3 at Western Xia Tombs

You can get up close to Mausoleum Number 3 at Western Xia Tombs. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

The Western Xia Imperial Tombs are a must-visit for anyone interested in the history of the Western Xia Dynasty and Xixia culture, dating back to the 11th century.

But even if you’ve never heard of these mysterious mausoleums, I highly recommend you go. After all, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The tombs are located about a 45-minute drive west of Yinchuan and are the final resting place of the emperors and their families.

The tombs are spread out over an area of 50 square kilometers (31 square miles) so there are minibuses that take you from A to B.

Although you’re not allowed to get up close and personal with every tomb, the ones that you can see are fairly well preserved despite their age.

You’ll get to see the intricate carvings and decorations that were common during the Western Xia Dynasty.

There’s also a great museum at the entrance, so I suggest about half a day to see the whole site.

2. See the Helan Mountain Rock Paintings

rock painting at Helan Mountains in Yinchuan

The rock art is one of the city’s biggest attractions. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

The rock carvings are located in the Helan Mountains, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) west of Yinchuan.

This is the same side of the city as the Xixia Tombs, so you could see both attractions on the same day if you only have a couple of days in the city.

The paintings date back to the Neolithic Age and depict hunting scenes, animals, and human figures. Some aren’t in great condition though and are fading away.

Rock paintings aside, I love how stark yet stunning the entire Helen Mountain range is. It’s worth visiting the area just to see the mountains rise up from the flatness of Yinchuan.

I’m from Australia, where it’s extremely flat, so maybe Yinchuan reminds me of home a bit.

3. Hike in the Helan Mountains

Tourist at Helan Mountains near Yinchuan

The Helan Mountains are dry yet stunning. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

This is a totally separate area of the Helan Mountains than the rock painting.

Like many Chinese tourist attractions, this one starts with a minibus to the destination – the foot of the mountain.

You can take a short chairlift ride up to the peak (for an extra fee), where you can take great photos in virtually every direction.

There’s also a pedestrian suspension bridge that you can walk across (for another extra fee) for even better photos.

You can take the chairlift back to the base or decide to walk down on the other side of the mountain, which is mostly concreted path.

Outside of summer, Helan Mountains is relatively quiet due to the distance from Yinchuan. I think that’s another reason why I like it so much.

4. Visit Nanguan Mosque

Nanguan Mosque

Nanguan Mosque is a working mosque. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

One of Yinchuan’s most iconic landmarks is the Nanguan Mosque.

This beautiful mosque dates back to the Ming Dynasty and is one of the oldest and largest mosques in China. It features traditional Chinese architecture and is located in the heart of the city.

You’re generally allowed to enter the mosque where you can learn about its history.

5. Learn about culture and history at Ningxia Museum

pottery display at Ningxia Museum

The museum has a great collection of local treasures including pottery. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

The Ningxia Museum is the perfect place to learn more about the history of Yinchuan and the surrounding region.

The museum has a large collection of artifacts from the Western Xia Dynasty, as well as exhibits on the history of the Silk Road and the Great Wall.

The museum is located in the city center and is open to the public every day except Monday.

If you’re really pressed for time in Yinchuan, you could give the museum a miss as the main exhibitions showcase artefacts that you would have already seen at the Western Xia Tombs and Mount Helan (I’m presuming!).

6. Relax in Zhongshan Park or Yuehai Park

Zhongshan Park Yinchuan

Zhongshan Park has pretty bridges as well as rides for the kids. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

If you’re looking for a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, Zhongshan Park is the perfect spot.

This cute little park is home to lovely gardens, tranquil ponds, and plenty of walking paths. It’s a great place to relax in the heart of the city.

It’s also a stone’s throw away from Wanda Shopping Mall if you feel like some retail therapy before or after your park stroll.

Yinchuan actually has lots of big parks and wetlands if you’re into nature. Try Yuehai Park if you’re looking for a much larger park with more activities.

It’s still relatively central.

7. Admire the Drum Tower

Drum Tower Yinchuan Ningxia

There’s something about the style of the Drum Tower that I love. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

Another must-see landmark in Yinchuan is the Drum Tower.

This ancient tower dates back to the Ming Dynasty and is an important piece of Yinchuan’s history. You currently can’t climb to the top, so you’ll need to admire it from afar.

Opposite the Drum Tower is the city’s main pedestrian and commercial street, where you can grab a bite to eat or do some shopping.

8. See a bizarre side of China at Shuidonggou

sand truck ride at Shuidonggou

There are plenty of things to do in this amusement-type park. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

It’s hard to sum up what Shuidonggou actually is.

I’d say it’s a themed park that gives you glimpses into various parts of the local culture.

For example, you can walk on an old part of the Great Wall (which has been enveloped by sand), ride horses and camels, go on a speedboat, and wander through ‘ancient’ tunnels.

It’s a wind-swept and run-down kind of place, but if you’re anything like me, the whole experience will make you giggle.

Want more inspo? Check out my full guide on all the things you can do in Yinchuan.

Food and drink in Yinchuan

Yinchuan has a distinctive mix of northern Han Chinese, Islamic and ethnic Hui dishes.

It’s a meat-heavy diet with lots of carbohydrate-rich foods like noodles and steamed buns. Exactly the kind of food I like getting stuck into!

Drum Tower area

Chinese hamburger roujiamo

A delicious, crispy roujiamo burger. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

I recommend starting in this old part of town.

If you’re looking for a quick bite to eat, you can grab a snack from one of the Chinese street food vendors selling local specialties like:

  • Cold noodles called liángpí (tastier than it sounds)
  • Chinese-style hamburger called ròujiāmó
  • Sesame balls for something a little sweet.

For a sit-down meal, there are lots of restaurants in the area that serve traditional cuisine including Halal food.

One popular option is the Ningxia Muslim Restaurant, which specializes in Halal dishes like lamb skewers and hand-pulled noodles. Yum!

Remember not to tip in China because the locals don’t (it’s not part of the culture).

Steamed lamb

One of the most popular dishes in Yinchuan is the steamed lamb, known as qīngzhēng yánggāo ròu or 清蒸羊羔肉 in Chinese characters.

It’s made by steaming lamb with ginger and garlic, resulting in tender and flavorful meat that is perfect for sharing.

I’ve been back to Yinchuan so many times that I’ve actually befriended a taxi driver, whom I ride with each time I visit.

He’s so nice that he cooks me lamb for lunch!

Mutton noodle soup

Chinese person eating mutton soup

Mutton soup is popular in Ningxia. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

Another must-try dish is the mutton noodle soup, which is made with hand-pulled noodles and tender chunks of mutton in a savory broth.

They’re obsessed in their mutton up north.

Eight-treasured tea

This is a sweet and refreshing drink that is popular among the Hui people in Ningxia.

This tea is made with a blend of tea leaves, ice sugar, longan, sesame, raisin, dried apricot, wolfberry fruits, and jujube.

In restaurants, it’s usually served in a teacup with a lid and saucer.

Local wine

Vineyard in Yinchuan

The area is famous for its wine (Mt Helan is in the background). Image by Jiayun on Shutterstock.

There are countless wineries – or chateaux as they call them in Yinchuan – dotted around the city.

I suggest a wine tasting tour, or if you have a driver then ask them to stop at a chateaux on the way back from the Xixia Tomb (you’ll see all the signs along the highway).

To be honest, I haven’t tried the local wine yet, even though I love a good glass of wine! Maybe next time.

Where to stay in Yinchuan

Yinchuan is your typical medium-sized Chinese city with lots of hotels to choose from.

On my last trip, which I booked just two days beforehand, there weren’t as many hotel options as usual. But I guess that’s normal in most cities around the world when you make last-minute bookings.


Shenhua Hotel Yinchuan

The Shenhua is a great, affordable accommodation option. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

I love the Shenhua Hotel and their friendly staff. I’ve stayed here a few times. It’s an older place but it has everything you need including a yummy breakfast.

The location is ideal – it’s just a few steps away from the Drum Tower and the main pedestrian shopping street.


Room at Vintage Hill Hotel in Yinchuan

The Vintage Hill Hotel is a little pricier as it’s opposite the museum and theater. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

I’ve stayed at the Vintage Hill Hotel when the Shenhua was sold out. It’s in a great location right opposite the Ningxia Museum.

The hotel is also only a 10-minute walk from the biggest shopping mall, Wanda, if you have a Western food craving. The rooms at Vintage Hill are a decent size and there’s a big buffet breakfast too.


If you have a bit more cash to spend, try the JW Marriott Hotel Yinchuan. It’s fairly new (it opened in 2020) and has the attention to detail that you’d expect from the Marriott brand.

Located near the museum, the hotel has contemporary styled rooms, a fully equipped gym and indoor swimming pool. Very fancy.

Transport in Yinchuan

Yinchuan is out of the way and not a major transport hub by any stretch of the imagination.

Unless you’re catching high-speed trains in the northwest part of China, you’ll have to fly here.

Air transport

On board a Chinese airplane

Yinchuan has a modern airport and it’s easy flying in and out. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

There are lots of options for flying in and out of Yinchuan Hedong International Airport.

Even though it’s classed as an international airport, all of the routes, bar one to Dubai, are domestic.

The most frequent domestic routes are Beijing and Urumqi (Xinjiang). There are multiple flights for these cities every day, served by all of the largest airlines in China.

The airport is located 25 kilometres (16 miles) southeast of downtown Yinchuan, not far from the Museum of Contemporary Art which I talk about here.

You should be able to get to the airport in about half an hour by car, depending on what part of downtown you’re staying in.

High-speed train

Yinchuan high-speed train station

Yinchuan’s high-speed train station has a special, local design. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

The train station itself is different to all the other ones in China. The design reflects the ethnic culture of the area and, in my opinion, is bloody amazing to look at!

Design aside, you can get from Xi’an to Yinchuan (or vice-versa) in three hours. So, you could quite easily break up a couple of weeks in Xi’an with some time in Yinchuan, without getting too far off track.

There are trains that go much further, e.g. to Beijing and Shanghai. Tap on the button below to book all your China bullet train bookings.

Local bus

Because there’s no subway in Yinchuan, there are plenty of city buses.

Admittedly, I haven’t used the buses because I’d much rather spend a few more yuan and get a rideshare or taxi.

Rideshare and taxi

These are everywhere in Yinchuan, given there’s no subway and the city is super-flat which makes driving easy.

Make sure you download Didi, which is China’s version of Uber. It’s in English, though your driver won’t speak English (which is OK as there’s an in-built translator).

Download these China travel apps before you arrive and don’t forget to refer to my China packing list as well.

Traveling outside Yinchuan

Most of the city’s best attractions aren’t in the heart of town, so you’re going to have to cover some distance regardless.

But if you’ve got more time to spend here, then here’s a couple of attractions that are a touch further away.


riding a traditional raft at Shapotou in Zhongwei

A traditional raft on the Yellow River. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

This place is actually a district of Zhongwei, another small city in Ningxia. It’s in the Tengger Desert, and borders the provinces of Gansu and Inner Mongolia.

Shapotou is a couple of hours’ drive from Yinchuan, but you could do a round trip in a day.

I’ve done it as a round-trip and seen other attractions along the way – it was a long day!

There’s also a high-speed train that goes to Zhongwei. If your stuff is in Yinchuan, you could book a tour where the tour guide meets you at the station, and be back in Yinchuan by nightfall.

There’s a bunch of things you can do at Shapotou, and most are centered around the very touristy (but fun) things including:

  • Camel riding
  • River rafting
  • Glamping
  • Sandboarding
  • Ziplining
  • Dune buggies
  • And the list goes on…

If you don’t want to make the trek out to the Tengger Desert, you can do some of these activities at Sand Lake (see below) which is much closer to Yinchuan.

Sand Lake Scenic Area

tourist with Pink Panther statue at Sand Lake Yinchuan

Sand Lake is strangely fun. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

Just be warned: some people call this area a “resort”. It’s not.

It’s basically a big lake and wetland that you can take boats through, go birdwatching or feeding, as well as do stuff like camel riding and monster trucking through the sand. Yeeha!

Although there are different ticket options (e.g. slow boat vs speed boat), you have to follow a certain direction through the park.

You’ll need to walk past amusements, souvenir shops, etc before you eventually wind your way back to the start.

So, it’s super-touristy but still fun. Just don’t expect an untouched paradise (I still liked it though).

Sand Lake Scenic Area is about a one-hour drive from the city. My driver drove back to downtown Yinchuan via some poor, lifeless villages, which was a real eye-opener.

Videos about Yinchuan travel

Get a visual taste of Yinchuan before you visit!

This video has some nice drone footage of the main city area, and shows you how big it is.

And this video gives you a look at the Western Xia Imperial Tombs, even though the silent nature of the video is a little creepy.

Need help with your travel bookings?

Going on a tour in China is a great idea, especially if you can’t speak Mandarin.

You can refer to this list of China travel agencies who can help put a plan together for you.

Or, to book your own flights, tours and hotels, we recommend Trip for amazing choice and value. Trip is one of the leading travel companies in China.

Don’t forget…


It’s easy to forget a thing or two before you head to China.

So, here are a few reminders for you:

  • The right visa – if you’re only staying for a quick trip, you could be eligible for visa-free travel.
  • Cash or Alipay – your credit card may not be accepted, so bring yuan or use Alipay or WeChat Pay (see China travel apps).
  • VPN app – to access all your favorite websites and apps in China, you’ll need to download a VPN before you leave your country. Get a VPN that works in China.

Have a wonderful time in Yinchuan. And don’t forget your VPN!

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Commercial relationship disclosure: The Helpful Panda has commercial arrangements with organizations that may appear on this page, such as affiliate links. See our terms for more info. Main image credit: Supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

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